Bags are tricky when it comes to sustainability – there are a lot of different materials and they all have pros and cons. Leather comes with a slew of tanning and cruelty issues while the vegan alternatives tend to be made of plastics or have plastic coatings. There are no “perfect” choices however I’ve rounded up some options and brands which I think are producing their products more consciously. There’s a good variety of options to meet different needs, styles and ethical/sustainable values and like my other round-ups, there is also a mix of North American and European based brands.
(please note: some affiliate links are used in this roundup)
Made from Cork
Cork seems to currently be one of the better options for sustainable bags. It’s a natural and renewable material (although cork materials typically come with a synthetic backing) and it can be flexible and durable similar to leather.
Made locally in Portugal, Corkor‘s bags use FSC® certified, sustainably harvest cork. They have a great range of styles and natural colours, and also are PETA-Approved which ensures there are no animal products used throughout the production. (Use code MYGREENCLOSET for 10% off!)
Products: backpacks, crossbodies, handbags, clutches, messenger bags and wallets
Great for: classic styles with a natural cork look
Conscious Highlights: vegan, natural cork material, FSC® certified, locally made in Portugal
Ordering: based in Portugal, ships international
A Canadian brand who manufactures their bags in family-run workshops in Portugal from Portuguese cork. Rok Cork has a variety of classic bag styles but made from cork with interesting colours and details.
Products: totes, satchels, crossbodies, and wallets
Great for: chic styles in a variety of colours
Conscious Highlights: natural cork material, ethically made in Portugal
Ordering: based in Canada, ships international
Made from Recycled Materials
I think recycled materials are the most sustainable option since no new materials have to be created (saving a lot of resources and energy) and it also saves existing materials from going to waste.
Using almost entirely re-purposed and recycled materials (like tarpaulin, sails, advertising banners, and car safety belts) grünBAG makes a collection of long-lasting and functional bags. I own one of their travel/gym bags and both my husband and I use their toiletry bags and they are not only really functional but also amazingly durable.
Products: backpacks, shoulder bags, sports bags, and cases/pouches
Great for: sporty, colourful and durable bags
Conscious Highlights: recycled materials, made in-house or in an atelier in Poland
Ordering: based in Denmark. ships international
Elvis & Kresse use innovative and long-lasting materials like repurposed fire-hoses, printing blankets, and parachute silk for their bags, they also have a collection made from leather off-cuts. As another sustainable feature they offer lifetime repairs on their products.
Products: shoulder bags, clutches, travel bags, and wallets
Great for: classic bags in unique and durable materials
Conscious Highlights: recycled materials, made in-house or in a factory in Turkey, gives back
Ordering: based in UK, ships international
Upcycled bags using unique materials such as vintage car interiors, seat belts, and aviation materials. All Mariclaro bags are made in their studio in Ontario, Canada.
Products: messenger bags, laptop bags, briefcases, backpacks, travel bags, and wallets
Great for: functional unisex bags made from unique materials
Conscious Highlights: repurposed and upcycled materials, made in Canada
Ordering: based in Canada, ships international
Made from Leather
Leather isn’t something I personally buy new for ethical reasons, however I understand that other people like it for the look and durability. So here are a few brands producing leather bags in a more sustainable way (and using safer tanning methods – chrome-tanned leather is something you want to avoid):
Of all the leather brands out there, CGC stands out for their transparency and sustainability. They have a traceable supply chain, work with farmers to focus on regenerative farming, and only source hides from AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) farms. The leather is vegetable tanned and the bags are made in the US.
Products: currently 1 handbag and wallet style
Great for: transparent and sustainable leather
Conscious Highlights: traceable and certified, supports regenerative farming, vegetable tanned, made in USA
Ordering: based in US, ships in the US
Based in The Netherlands, O My Bag has a wide-variety of styles made from leather that is locally sourced near the tannery; it comes from either local meat by-products or from cows that died a natural death, and then goes through an “eco-tanning” process. The bags are then ethically made in one of their factories.
Products: large selection of women’s and men’s bags
Great for: minimalist leather styles
Conscious Highlights: “eco-tanned” leather, transparent and fair production, carbon-offset shipping emissions
Ordering: Based in Amsterdam, ships international
Bags made from fish-leather, sourced as a by-product from the food industry (which would otherwise be thrown away) that is then vegetable-tanned. Ms. Bay also uses recycled linings and packaging, and creates their bags in SA 8000 as well as some fair trade certified factories in India.
Products: crossbodies, clutches and wallets
Great for: luxury, minimal purses
Conscious Highlights: rescued/recycled materials, vegetable tanning, certified factories
Ordering: based in Belgium, ships within Europe
Made from Textiles
Variety of bags (even laundry and yoga bags!) made from natural fabrics as well as upcycled feed and cement bags. Malia‘s bags are fair trade and made in Cambodia, they also donate to support children and fight trafficking in Cambodia.
Products: wallets, totes, crossbodies, clutches, yoga and travel bags
Great for: travel bags and accessories
Conscious Highlights: rescued/recycled and sustainable materials, fair trade, gives back
Ordering: based in USA, ships to Canada and USA
Made from Synthetics (PU)
I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not a fan of Matt & Nat and their greenwashing, so I wanted to share at least one alternative for vegan synthetic bags. It’s actually been incredibly challenging to find brands in this category that have good sustainability, quality, and are transparent about their ethics and manufacturing, but I wanted to find brands that at least don’t use PVC (which is a lot worse than PU) and I’d say are a better alternative if you’re looking for a “Matt & Nat style” vegan-leather bag. Although if you know of any better brands in this category please let me know!
I purchased a cross-body years ago from Angela Roi when my main criteria for bags was just that it was vegan. I’m happy that, with a little care, the bag is still a major workhorse in my wardrobe and my go-to bag.
Angela Roi makes their vegan, polyurethane (PU) bags in Korea and in my experience they are quite high-quality. While I really like my Angela Roi bag, when it needs to be replaced I will likely try to find a more sustainable material and brand that is more transparent about their ethical standards. Style-wise they are a great alternative to Matt & Nat though!
Products: crossbodies, shoulder bags, and handbags
Great for: a non-PVC Matt & Nat alternative
Conscious Highlights: vegan
Ordering: based in US, ships with US (although you can also order internationally from these stores)
Made from Other Materials
Colourful bags made from raffia (a fibre from raffia palm leaves). AAKS bags are all made in Ghana by fairly-paid artisans using a traditional hand-weaving technique. (Bags also have leather details)
Products: shoulder bags, crossbodies, and totes
Great for: brightly coloured and patterned statement bags
Conscious Highlights: natural materials, made by local artisans
Ordering: based in Ghana, ships international (for free)
HFS Collective uses a variety of eco-friendly materials such as recycled and deadstock materials, Pinatex, raffia, organic cotton, and more. The bags are all made locally in Los Angeles.
Products: belt bags, crossbodies, and wallets
Great for: small bags and belt bags
Conscious Highlights: vegan, sustainable materials, locally made in LA, gives back
Ordering: based in US, ships international
All images aside from the ones for grünBAG and Angela Roi are from the brand’s websites.
Do you have any favourite sustainable bag/purse brands I missed?